What if there are exactly three hoops we have to jump through to enter into heaven: repentance, grace and faith. How can we ever possibly know that we are sorry enough or have renewed our minds enough (depending on your definition of repentance) to qualify for heaven? Or how do we know whether we have enough faith? Is there room for doubt in that faith? Doubt that God exists? Doubt that we are actually penitent enough to be forgiven.
What if there are more than three hoops we have to jump through to get into heaven? What if we also have to get our theology right? What if those who refuse to believe that Jesus is God, or those who do not accept God as Trinity, go straight to hell for getting their theology wrong and potentially leading other people to do the same? What other theological questions might disqualify people from getting into heaven?
What about our morality? The Bible indicates that we are judged by our works. What works are those? Does that mean that if one is actively pro-abortion / pro-choice as it is referred to (which some would define as murder) there are no second chances for that person?
Or what if a person is gay, lesbian, transvestite, asexual or bisexual – is that person disqualified from heaven because of a sexuality they feel they have no control over? Is one only disqualified for being activtely homosexual but not for being a celibate homosexual? Where do you draw the line? Is having homosexual thoughts the same as being in a relationship with a person of the same sex? Or again, is it about being sorry enough?
So – assuming being gay is a sin (and I’m not saying it is) – if I were gay and on my deathbed after years of engaging in a same-sex relationship, and I begged God to forgive me and let me into heaven – would I get in then? What if I died before I confessed or repented, but always believed in God and tried to love him? Or what if I were simply not sorry at all, and I attended a gay affirming church and believed that I was in a right relationship with God and will be accepted into heaven – what then?
Exactly how actively “sinful” is too “sinful” to qualify for grace?
People who attended my mother’s funeral believed she was a beautiful person, they had nice things to say about her and nobody really questioned my family’s claim that she is in heaven now. But what if she harboured bitterness and resentment in her heart, or some other secret sins? While she was still sick, someone actually had the gall to ask her what “sin” she had committed that caused her to get sick! Was she being punished on earth for her secret sins? Does that mean she’s done enough penance to escape hell? Or will she go to some purgatorial midway spiritual-life where she has to suffer from bowel cancer for a few more aeons before God lets her into heaven? What is the onus of her salvation?
What is the onus of my salvation? There are plenty of people out there who suspect that I might be a heretic and might not get in to heaven: because of my theology. Perhaps there is no grace for me because I write books that offend people and could potentially “lead people astray” if I am wrong!
What is it exactly that we have to do to get to heaven? Is the Bible specific? And whether it is specific or not, does our denominational interpretation make it sound like there are extra things we have to do like being baptised or being filled with the Holy Spirit or praying the sinners prayer, or forgiving our brother – because if we don’t forgive we won’t be forgiven – not to mention; God forbid anyone blaspheme the Holy Spirit!
How then can anyone be assured of their salvation?
So let’s quickly review the checklist of variables I have just mentioned above:
- Believe you are saved by grace
- Have faith – because without faith it is impossible to please God
- Be baptised in water
- Be baptised in the Holy Spirit
- Believe in the Trinity
- Believe Jesus is both God and man
- Forgive everybody
- Do not blaspheme the Holy Spirit
- Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength
- Display the fruits of the Spirit
- Do good works – because faith without deeds is dead
- Do not do bad works – or be sexually immoral because the Western church seems particularly hung up on that!
Have I forgotten anything? When I was a teenager, I suffered major anxiety and condemnation over all of these things. What if I’m not really good enough to be saved?
But there are even more questions to add to that! What if I’m in the wrong religion? What if I’m biased to Christianity (and I am) because my parents are Christian (and my mother was; my father is)? What if the Muslims have a more correct understanding of who God is than I do? Or if I have the more correct understanding and they don’t, does that mean they are all going to hell? But what if they couldn’t help it because, just like me, they were biased to their religion because it was their family’s religion?
How can we trust in a God who places multiple conditions on our entry into heaven and excludes all those who mistakenly choose the wrong path? Where is the unconditional-love in that?
If the onus of our salvation is anything other than being saved by Jesus Christ alone – we dare not trust it. Either he has saved us without us having to do a single thing to be included in his saving acts; or there is no salvation…